As anyone who has been that way would know, a drive through the Russells Mills neighborhood of Dartmouth would not be complete without a stop at Alderbrook Farm. Fresh off another successful Christmas tree season, the year round farm owned by Allen and Nancy Manley still has plenty of their homemade honey, some jams and preserves and fresh, freshly baked breads and pastries, and yummy local dairy products. Other assorted goods, like commemorative Dartmouth ornaments, soaps and books adorn the shelves in the farm store. It’s business as usual but, as is the case for all farmers, preparation is already underway for the upcoming season.
While Carol Fish, the Manleys’ daughter, is helping upstairs, thumbing through seed catalogs, Nancy and I talked about what to expect this year. “Some of the usual…lettuce mix, plenty of herbs, spaghetti and pattypan squash…we’ll do some oddball crops like fennel and okra,” she said. Last year, their fairy tale eggplant blew me away, so I selfishly chimed in on behalf of that. Any spoilers? “We’re going to try avocado again. That’s all my husband though,” she laughed, uttering a phrase familiar since the dawn of time. They’ll continue to bring in most of the produce they sell from local farms, including hydroponic berries from Jim Munger’s Stoney Meadow Farm.
Whether the products that customers come back for year in and year out originate from the farm or down the road, the greatest attribute of a visit to Alderbrook is you feel like you’re coming back home. Everyone is welcoming…including the chickens.
On a summer day, parents can be seen walking with their children through the farm freely to meet Alderbrook’s resident livestock and enjoy the beautifully kept grounds. There’s no pressure for them to buy something, though most do. It’s about educating and exposing people to farming and rebuilding that link to agriculture that many have lost. “We have had so many field trips come from New Bedford, Fairhaven and day care establishments throughout the area, and kids really love seeing how things grow. Most of them are amazed when we pull up a carrot,” Nancy said. She added, “we wanted to make this place a resource to educate, and it’s really become that.” Indeed, Nancy and Allen have been fixtures in promoting local agriculture, notably through their work with the Dartmouth Grange, which has become itself a focal point for events celebrating local agriculture and facilitating the exchange of farmers’ experience and wisdom.
In the Manley family since 1898, Alderbrook Farm continues to be strong under the care of Nancy and Allen, and sure looks to have a bright future. Nancy beamed when mentioning her grandson who is helping on the farm after serving in the Air Force, and several of her other grandchildren who help in the summertime as well. Also, there’s an eight year-old great grandchild who is ready to work too. Something tells me that we’ll all have a place to come home to on Russells Mills Road for a long, long time.
The crisp airing biting as you pull the blanket over your face…the feeling when your feet first hit the cold floor in the morning…scraping that layer of frost from your windshield. Yes, November mornings in our little corner of heaven have all the subtlety of an ice bucket challenge. The only thing on most of our minds is the first coffee of the day (and, perhaps, some of us have drawn plans for the second by that time). Don’t feel bad: by the time most of us have reached for that first cup, the folks at Dufort Farms in Rehoboth have already been up for several hours applying their craft.
Year round, John and Carolyn Dufort care for the Angus and Hereford cattle (about 60 head this year) and very happy hogs that roam the over 120 acres of farmland the operate. They first established the farm on 32 of those acres in 1990 on land with an agricultural history dating back to 1865, and have steadily expanded via leased land to accommodate a growing need for locally raised beef and pork. They also feature homemade jams and jellies at their farm store and offer “pick your own” blueberries from their over 1000 blueberry bushes in season. Beef and pork are the stars of the show though, and I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with John and Carolyn about what they do and why they do it.
“What’s a vacation?” John laughed. “We haven’t taken one in five years!” Year round is year round at Dufort Farms and, as some in local agriculture start to scale back in the fall or begin the important work of planning for the next spring, the Duforts are out in full force, both on the farm and at markets. They are always a presence at the Holly Hill Farm (Cohasset) and Plymouth Farmers Markets and their products can also be found at Lee’s Market in Westport, The Good Seed in Seekonk, The Breakfast Place in Attleboro, Martha’s in Plymouth and Simpson Spring in Easton. Additionally, they operate their own farm stand on Saturdays from 8am to 4pm. Thankfully, John and Carolyn’s son and daughter-in-law, Peter and Sydney, also pitch in to help get their products to market.
While a good chunk of time is spent shuttling cattle and hogs to process or bringing finished product to market, being on the farm and properly raising the animals is the part of the equation in which the Duforts shine. It take from three to three and a half years before cattle can be brought to market, about a year as calves and, after calving, two to two and a half years before grass fed steers generally reach market weight. As you can imagine, the regulatory responsibilities are many for a farm that produces beef and the Duforts, who maintain a very close relationship with their customers, are always doing their due diligence to insure the highest standards. Their grass fed beef and foraged pork is USDA approved (and, may I say, delicious) and they are always focused on improving quality and customer satisfaction.
Most consumers these days buy meats from large chain supermarkets and it’s either difficult or impossible to ascertain the chain of custody from farm to table. Buying locally is a great way to know with certainty the quality of product you have and, just as important, the quality of the producer…but does it taste any better? Spoiler alert: yes. When I visited the farm, I bought two pounds of ground beef and packages of sweet Italian and spicy Cajun pork sausages to do my own “scientific research”. As homage to my Italian roots, I did my best to replicate my grandmother’s meatball recipe for the first test. Some minced garlic, pepper, seasoned bread crumb and farm fresh eggs and, with a little bit of shaping, they were ready to go to the frying pan. After a few minutes, I tossed them in a homemade sauce thrown together with some late season tomatoes and served them on rigatoni. What really struck me was the juiciness of the meatball. Every bite was consistently juicy and both the texture and natural flavor of the meat paired well with the ingredients within and surrounding it. While it certainly exceeded my exacting standards, the true test is always “will the kids eat it?” Well, they gobbled them. There really wasn’t anything left after we were done, so mission accomplished. A few days later, I used the other pound to make hamburger patties without any added flavoring, and THAT is when you can really tell the difference between beef shipped from a different time zone and beef raised down the road. The juiciness was there once again but that natural beef flavor, unfettered by ingredients, fillers, or any other by-products, really struck me. The pork sausages left the same impression, needing absolutely no additional flavoring or condiments. Truthfully, I didn’t share the sausages. Sorry, I’m not sorry.
After enjoying these wonderful meats, I touched base again with John. I asked him what challenges do the Duforts face that people outside of agricultural might never consider. “Life on the farm…today’s current population (urban and city life) has been removed from the family farm for two to three generations. They have little concept of the time it takes and the workload everyday throughout the year to bring products to the table,” he said. “It’s not instant. Some days are 18 hours. You deal with the weather, ice and snow, frozen water, hurricanes, and wildlife dangers.” A lot of farmers are in that predicament but, when raising cattle, the variables increase, according to John. “We also deal with one hundred percent of the risk. If we lose a calf (or a cow and calf), that is a big financial setback.”
John’s point about educating the public about local agriculture is well made, and certainly something to consider when venturing out to the buy groceries. As a follower of SEMAP, you know how important that effort is. It’s why we do what we do here, but if you have friends or family who have never tried locally-raised meats, try to make this point to them: quality, safety and taste don’t spontaneously appear. They are painstakingly crafted over time and, like many things in life, you get out what you put in. Given the choice between a faceless factory from a far-flung flyover state or the farmer down the road whose top priority is making sure you come back satisfied, isn’t that choice obvious? Moreover, don’t we, as consumers, deserve that quality when it comes to the food we eat? The answer is a resounding yes, and that’s why we buy local.
Dufort Farms is located at 55 Reservoir Avenue in Rehoboth. They can be reached by phone at 508-252-6323 or by email at email@example.com
For an up-to-date list of products and markets, visit DufortFarms.com.
Tell them SEMAP sent you!
While preparing to write my first SEMAP Spotlight, I figured it would be a good idea to visit C.N. Smith Farm in East Bridgewater early afternoon during a weekday. Anyone who has traversed across Southeastern Massachusetts during the autumn in search of fresh fruits and vegetables is well-acquainted with just how active farm stores and stands can be on the weekends. What struck me as I walked into the farm store was how many people were out shopping and picking midday…not a deluge, but a good, constant stream. “Come on the weekend,” the cashier said. “The cider donuts are legendary.” Ma’am, you had me at “cider donuts”. Putting aside my daydream of the farm’s homemade apple cider donuts, I met with Chris Smith and Caryl Guarino, the brother and sister duo that run C.N. Smith Farm, our SEMAP Spotlight Farm for October.
Third generation farmers, Chris and Caryl represent the culmination of over 80 years of family farming in East Bridgewater. With more than 60 of their 93 acres in production, they employ anywhere from 7 to 10 part-time farmers and a few full-timers as well. They also farm another 20 acres offsite for corn and squash. “Understand what the customer wants, and adapt,” Chris replied when I asked them both the secret to their success and longevity. Not a completely novel concept, but one that’s not always easy to accomplish. C.N. Smith Farm, however, has a proven history of adapting. When it was founded, they focused predominantly on poultry and eggs. When Chris and Caryl’s father assumed leadership, his passion was strawberries. These days, a panoply of fruits, vegetables, and berries are grown here, but clearly “pick your own” is a huge part of the equation.
The PYO fruits and berries at C.N. Smith include strawberries in June and July, blueberries in July and August, raspberries and peaches in August and, of course, apples from Labor Day to Columbus Day. Chris pointed to the greenhouse filled with Halloween decorations adjacent to the store and the large selection of jams and other prepared foods as an indication that, while apple picking is coming to an end, there’s always something going on. Additionally, Caryl is in charge of greenhouse production at the Garden Center, and they offer a wide variety of heirloom vegetable plants, perennials, annuals, topiary and growing supplies. They also carry fruit trees and bushes through partnerships with other farmers and growers. As we approach the colder months, visitors to the farm can find a large collection of their winter squash and pumpkins.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention cider, and anyone who has picked up a gallon of their fresh, pressed-on-the-farm apple cider knows just how good it is. It’s like drinking a glass of autumn, and this year C.N. Smith is also selling a hard cider as well. “We successfully went through the processes with the state and federal government agencies and put our first commercial batch on the shelves about two weeks ago,” Chris said. Needless to say, all 50 gallons were gone pretty quickly. Fear not. They are pressing more! Call or come by to check availability of either kind of cider.
The pick-your-own season comes to an end in spectacular fashion at the annual Harvest Hoedown on October 11th to the 13th from 10am to 4pm. All are welcome to join in apple picking (subject to availability of crop) and enjoy live music, moonwalks, pony rides, hayrides, pumpkin picking and enjoy yummy treats from the C.N. Smith farm kitchen!
As I stood in the store with Caryl and Chris and wrapped up my visit, I noticed a man in his 30s with a young child. They were carrying a pumpkin and I’d bet dollars to cider donuts that they were fixing to carve a jack o’lantern when they got home. “I have parents of young children who come up to me and tell me that they came here with their parents when they were young to pick apples or buy pumpkins,” Chris said. “It happens all the time.” It stands to prove that while adaptation, especially in the challenging landscape of Massachusetts agriculture, is important, the connection to the earth we experience when we pick an apple and the warmth and joy we feel when we share a glass of cider with friends or load the perfect carving pumpkin into the family car are timeless.
At Copicut Farms, it’s neither the chicken nor the egg that came first, but the willingness and dedication of one New England family. After years of work in science and education, Elizabeth and Vince Frary decided to pursue their dream of starting a farm. Now in their third season, Copicut Farms raises chickens (for eggs and meat), Cornish game hens and turkeys – about 3,000 birds in all on 80 acres of mixed woodland and pasture. Copicut Farms is a family owned operation that uses no hormones or antibiotics in any of their feeds, and Copicut birds enjoy a free range lifestyle, feeding on healthy pasture and fertilizing the soils along the way.
Although both Elizabeth and Vince grew up on and around farms (Elizabeth is a fourth generation family farmer!), neither of them had initially chosen farming as a career. Vince was a wildlife biologist for the state of Arizona and Elizabeth had earned her Masters in Elementary Education. Their early years of farming had instilled in them the values of hard work, dedication and a love of the outdoors. Starting a farm together became an opportunity for them to create that experience for their young son, Emmett, who gets to spend every day on the farm and absolutely loves it. Read more →
February 20, 2014 by Nicki Anderson
A smooth snowy blanket covers the fields at Heart Beets Farm, fresh for Opal, the farm’s two year old Australian Cattle Dog, to dodge and dart through frantically in all her ebullience. Inside the greenhouse, kale, spinach and lettuce enjoy their own blankets of row cover, keeping them warm enough to survive the freezing temperatures. With the sun shining on a clear, crisp day, we sit with Head Farmer Steve Murray, formerly of Kettle Pond Farm, to learn more about his story and his new farm.
Although this may be the first year of operation for Heart Beets Farm, it’s Steve Murray’s eighth year farming in the South Coast region of Massachusetts, and his sixth year growing food at 181 Bay View Avenue in Berkley, MA.
While studying physics at UMass Dartmouth, Steve became disgruntled with the academic tendency to emphasize discussion and theory as opposed to activity and production, and therefore was inspired to start interning at nearby Kettle Pond Farm in Berkley. He initially worked weekends, until school ended and he became employed full time on the farm. When the farm manager left at the end of that year, Steve was asked to become Farm Manager after only one season of farming! And he’s been at it ever since, innovating all the way. Since then, he’s more than doubled CSA membership, worked to revitalize and remineralize the soils, and, most recently, started farming under his very own business enterprise: Heart Beets Farm. Read more →